Joan La Barbara’s career as a composer, performer, soundartist explores the human voice as a multi-faceted instrument expanding traditional boundaries, creating works for multiple voices, chamber ensembles, music theater, orchestra and interactive technology, developing a unique vocabulary of experimental and extended vocal techniques: multiphonics, circular singing, ululation and glottal clicks that have become her "signature sounds", garnering awards in the U.S. and Europe including the 2004 Guggenheim Fellowship in Music Composition, the prestigious DAAD Artist-in-Residency in Berlin and 7 National Endowment for the Arts fellowships: Music Composition, Opera/Music Theatre, Inter-Arts, Recording (2), Solo Recitalist and Visual Arts; ISCM International Jury Award; Akustische International Competition Award; Meet The Composer and ASCAP Awards and numerous commissions for concert, theatre and radioworks. Commissions include tapeworks "in the dreamtime" and "Klangbild Köln" for WestDeutscher Rundfunk; "Dragons on the Wall", a music score commissioned by Mary Flagler Cary Trust and "Calligraphy II/Shadows" for voice and chinese instruments, both for Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company; the choral work "to hear the wind roar" for Gregg Smith Singers, I Cantori and the Center for Contemporary Arts in Santa Fe and "Events in the Elsewhere" from "The Misfortune of the Immortals", both funded by Meet the Composer/Lila Wallace; "Awakenings" for chamber ensemble, commissioned by the University of Iowa Center for New Music, "L'albero dalle foglie azzurre" (tree of blue leaves) for solo oboe and tape, commissioned by the Saint Louis Symphony, and "A Trail of Indeterminate Light" for cellist who also sings. "73 Poems", her collaborative work with text artist Kenneth Goldsmith, was included in "The American Century Part II: SoundWorks" at The Whitney Museum of American Art and recently performed as part of Poetry International 2004 at London's Royal Festival Hall. "Messa di Voce", an interactive media work, in collaboration with Jaap Blonk, Golan Levin and Zachary Lieberman, premiered at Ars Electronica in Linz, Austria on September 7, 2003 and was awarded Honorary Mention in the 2004 Prix Ars Electronica. The American Music Center's Live Music for Dance program recently commissioned a new score from La Barbara, "Landscape over Zero" for Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company and Ne(x)tworks ensemble for the 2004-2005 season. La Barbara is currently at work on "WoolfSong", a new opera inspired by the life and work of Virginia Woolf.
La Barbara has collaborated with artists including Lita Albuquerque, Cathey Billian, Melody Sumner Carnahan, Judy Chicago, Ed Emshwiller, Kenneth Goldsmith, Peter Gordon, Bruce Nauman, Steina, Woody Vasulka and Lawrence Weiner. In the early part of her career, she performed and recorded with Steve Reich, Philip Glass and jazz artists Jim Hall, Hubert Laws, Enrico Rava and arranger Don Sebesky, developing her own unique vocal/instrumental sound. She has premiered landmark compositions written for her by noted American composers, including Morton Subotnick's chamber opera "Jacob's Room" for American Music Theater Festival, Philadelphia and MANCA, Nice, his media poems "Hungers" for Los Angeles Festival and Ars Electronica, Linz and "Intimate Immensity" for the Lincoln Center Festival; the title role in Robert Ashley's opera "Now Eleanor's Idea" at Festival d'Avignon and BAM's Next Wave Festival, and his "Balseros" for Miami Grand Opera and "Dust" in Yokohama and NYC; Philip Glass and Robert Wilson's "Einstein on the Beach" at Festival d'Avignon; Morton Feldman's "Three Voices"; Steve Reich' "Drumming" at New York's Town Hall and John Cage's "Solo for Voice 45" with "Atlas Eclipticalis" and "Winter Music" at Festival de La Rochelle, France. Her collaboration with Judy Chicago, "Prologue to The Book of Knowing … (and ) of Overthrowing" was performed at the First New York International Festival of the Arts and Telluride’s Composer-to-Composer Festivals. In addition to the internationally-acclaimed "Three Voices for Joan La Barbara by Morton Feldman" (New Albion NA018), "Joan La Barbara Singing through John Cage" (New Albion NA035) and "Joan La Barbara/Sound Paintings" (Lovely Music LCD 3001), she has recorded for A&M Horizon, Centaur, Deutsche Grammophon, Elektra-Nonesuch, Mode, Music & Arts, MusicMasters, Musical Heritage, Newport Classic, New World, Sony, Virgin, Voyager and Wergo. "Voice is the Original Instrument", La Barbara's seminal works from the 70's, was released March 2003, as a 2-cd set (Lovely Music LCD3003-2) and hailed as one of The Wire's 10 best reissues of the year.
"ShamanSong" (New World Records 80545-2) includes her compositions "ShamanSong", "Calligraphy II/Shadows" and "ROTHKO". Her collaboration with visual/text artist Kenneth Goldsmith, "73 Poems", is an edition of prints, book and cd produced by Permanent Press and Lovely Music Ltd (LCD 3002). Also recent is "The Time Is Now" a compilation of music composed to texts by Melody Sumner Carnahan, including La Barbara’s works: "de profundis: out of the depths, a sign" and "A Different Train" (Frog Peak FP006). Recording projects as singer and/or producer include "Only: Works for Voice and Instruments" by Morton Feldman" (New Albion NA085); "Rothko Chapel/Why Patterns" (New Albion), "John Cage at Summerstage with Joan La Barbara, Leonard Stein and William Winant", Cage's final concert performance on July 23, 1992 in NYC's Central Park (Music & Arts CD-875); "Centering - the music of Earle Brown" (Newport Classics npd 85631).
Her works have been choreographed by John Alleyne for Ballet British Columbia, Martha Curtis, Catherine Kerr, Martha Scott and used by Merce Cunningham for an "Events" evening. Filmscores include "Anima" (Elizabeth Harris Productions); a score for voice with electronics for Steve Finkin’s Signing Alphabet animation to assist hearing children in learning to communicate with the deaf, broadcast worldwide since 1977 for "Children’s Television Workshop/Sesame Street"; and music for films by Richard Blau, Monica Gazzo, Amy Kravitz, Elyse Rosenberg and Steven Subotnick and Harvey Wang and for video works by Susanna Carlisle. "Immersion", an underwater dance film by Jodi Kaplan featuring La Barbara’s music was shown at the 1999 "New Directors/New Films" Festival at the Museum of Modern Art and at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. La Barbara composed and performed the "Angel Voice" for actress Emmannuelle Béart in the feature film "Date with an Angel", performed the "Newborn Vocals" for "Alien: Resurrection" and was vocal soloist on the John Frizzell musical soundscore for "I Still Know What You Did Last Summer".
Educated at Syracuse and New York Universities and Tanglewood/Berkshire Music Center, studying voice with Helen Boatwright, Phyllis Curtin and Marian Szekely-Freschl, she learned her compositional tools as an apprentice with the numerous composers with whom she has worked for three decades. La Barbara served on the faculties of California Institute of the Arts, Hochschule der Künst in Berlin, The College of Santa Fe and the University of New Mexico, as well as maintaining a private studio. She served as Vice President of the American Music Center in New York; co-Artistic Director of the New Music America Festival in Los Angeles; was Contributing Editor for Musical America/High Fidelity and Schwann/Opus magazines and from 1989-2002 produced and co-hosted "Other Voices, Other Sounds," a weekly radio program focussing on contemporary classical music for KUNM-FM.
La Barbara was Artistic Director of the Carnegie Hall series, "When Morty met John", celebrating the music of John Cage and Morton Feldman and The New York School; is Artistic Director, Curator and Host of "Insights", a new series of encounters with distinguished composers, for The American Music Center; and co-produces the "EMF 10" concert series in New York City. Joan La Barbara is a member of SAG, AFTRA, AEA, The American Music Center, and is a composer and publisher member of ASCAP.